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New Scientist The Collection Issue Four

New Scientist covers discoveries and ideas in science and technology that will change your life and the way you understand the world. New Scientist employs and commissions the best writers in their fields to provide in-depth but accessible coverage of the developments that matter. New Scientist: The Collection is a themed compilation of recent articles and special reports from our back catalogue, providing a book-length examination of some of the deepest questions known to humanity.

United Kingdom
New Scientist Ltd
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access_time3 min.
the evolution of a genius ape

When Charles Darwin set out his theory of evolution in On The Origin of Species, he was all but silent on the origin of our own kind. The 1859 book contains only one brief mention of human evolution: “In the distant future… light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history”Darwin was wise to be reticent. Although he was convinced that Homo sapiens evolved just like all other species, the world was not ready. The idea that we evolved from apes, rather than being the result of divine creation, was scandalous. As Darwin admitted in his autobiography: “It would have been useless and injurious to the success of the book to have paraded, without giving any evidence, my conviction with respect to his origin.”Darwin did not live…

access_time8 min.
the origin of our species

FROM APES TO HUMANSTwelve million years ago, Earth was a planet of the apes. Fossil evidence shows there were many ape species spread across Africa and Eurasia. About 7 million years ago, a species that would give rise to humans and our closest living relatives, the chimpanzees, lived in Africa. The fossils of this “last common ancestor” have yet to be found.By 6 million years ago, the human lineage had evolved primitive bipedality. Some 2 million years later it had extended its range across Africa. After another million years, the genus Australopithecus came on to the scene. One species sparked a technological revolution based on stone tool manufacture that helped later hominids* to spread beyond Africa.The first species of to do this, Homo erectus, rapidly spread from Africa into Eurasia…

access_time17 min.
mysteries of our past

Why are we so different from chimps?NOBODY would mistake a human for a chimpanzee, yet we share more DNA than mice and rats do. How can that be? Advances in genomics are starting to unravel the mystery.Line up the genomes of humans and chimps side by side and they differ by little more than a few per cent. That may not seem like much, but it equates to more than 30 million point mutations. Around 80 per cent of our 30,000 genes are affected, and although most have just one or two changes, the effects can be dramatic.For example, the protein made by the human gene FOXP2, which helps us to speak, differs from its chimp counterpart by just two amino acids. And small changes in the microcephalin and ASPM…

access_time11 min.
flower child

BRING me his head. That was the job given to graduate student Jonathan Bloch two decades ago. His supervisor, Philip Gingerich, had collected some large fossil-rich limestone blocks from the Bighorn basin in Wyoming and brought them back to the museum at the University of Michigan.“The rocks had bone in them, but what exactly was a mystery. It was my task to reduce the rock using acid to see what I could find,” says Bloch. “When I asked Philip what I should be looking for, he said something like, ‘how about a skull?’” Bloch said OK and set to work. At the time, he didn’t realise how incredibly rare it is to find mammal skulls from the time after the death of the dinosaurs 66 million years ago, when the…

access_time11 min.
our true dawn

LINE them up in your head. Generation after generation of your ancestors, reaching back in time through civilisations, ice ages, an epic migration out of Africa, to the very origin of our species. And on the other side, take a chimp and line up its ancestors. How far back do you have to go, how many generations have to pass, before the two lines meet?This is one of the biggest and hardest questions in human evolution. We know that at some point we shared a common ancestor with chimps, but exactly when, and what that ancestor was like, have been maddeningly hard to pin down. Palaeontologists have searched for fossil remains, and geneticists have rummaged through the historical documents that are human and chimp DNA. Both made discoveries, but they…

access_time11 min.
new to the family

IT’S instantly recognisable – one of the most iconic scientific illustrations of all time. The original version of The March of Progress, drawn for a popular science book in 1965, lined up all the early relatives of humans known at the time in chronological order. The artist, Rudolph Zallinger of the Peabody Museum of Natural History, sketched them striding purposefully across the page, seemingly becoming more advanced with each step. It gave the impression – despite the book saying otherwise – that human evolution was a linear progression from small-brained tree climbers to bipedal big-brained modern humans.This much-copied image has been criticised for oversimplification, but until recently our evolutionary past was not thought to be a great deal more complex, give or take the odd dead-end side shoot. Now, however,…